Monday, October 26, 2015

"What about those who have never heard the Gospel?" My response.

I was having a discussion with some friends the other day and it found its way around to discussing religion. One question was raised and I wasn't quite sure how to answer it. One of them asked, "If God is all powerful and all knowing, why does he let people (those who haven't heard the Word) die? They're given no chance be believe or not and are condemned to hell because of it."

It being very late when we were having this conversation and I was unable to come up with an adequate response so I'm curious what you would say to someone if they posed that question to you.

Thanks for your time

~Cheryl


Hey Cheryl!

That's a good question.

This is question is called the "fate of the unevangelized" in theology. I think you mean, "why does God allow them to go to hell" rather than "why does God allow them to die." I think you mean that, of course, because non-Christians die all the time. Physical death is the final event of (nearly) all humans.

To be clear: people aren't condemned to hell because they didn't hear the gospel. They are condemned to hell because they are sinners. It's like saying, if you don't mind the analogy: When people have a terrible illness (like cancer), they die because cancer killed them, not because they didn't take medicine. "Not taking medicine" doesn't kill someone. Similarly, "not hearing the gospel" doesn't kill someone. The "terrible illness" of sin is what "kills" a person. (I say more about this in my book on Amazon.com.)

To be clear: all Christians believe that the death of Jesus did something for other humans, something objective. His death has a “saving effect” for humans when it is applied to them. He didn't just set a good example. His death actually did something for us that we could not do for ourselves.

(I recorded a podcast on this that you might find helpful: http://traffic.libsyn.com/davidpendergrass/What_does_it_mean_that_Jesus_died_for_me.mp3 ).

So, Christians all agree that the saving benefit of Jesus’s death is applied; we disagree on what it takes for it to be applied. That is, what are the conditions necessary for Jesus’s death to help me? Do I need to hear something? Say something? Believe something?

There are three major views on this issue (and this is extremely brief!). So, what must a person do or believe before Jesus’s saving death will be applied to them?
1.      Exclusivism – A person must hear/read the gospel and respond in faith (and for many, be baptized). If the person doesn’t hear in this life time then, in the end, the proper punishment for that person will be hell because of his/her sinning throughout life.
2.      Inclusivism – A person must repent to the degree that they can based on the amount of knowledge s/he has of God. If the person doesn’t live according to the Moral Law placed within him/her to the best of his/her ability, and repent of a life of selfishness, etc., then that person will deserve hell. Obviously, this view holds that God judges people according to a different standard than the first view, since each person has different capacities and opportunities (such as the mentally handicapped, children, those who never have access to the gospel, etc.).
3.      Molinism (or Middle Knowledge) – A person must hear/read the gospel and respond in faith. And…God knows exactly what a person would choose if presented with the gospel. So, if a person never hear/reads the gospel it means s/he would have not responded in faith even if s/he received the gospel. So, if the gospel doesn’t make it to them, it means that they would have said, “no,” anyway.

Another minor view is that after death, those who have never heard are presented the gospel and given a chance before judgment. Another view (very popular among Roman Catholics) is that people who go to hell will eventually be punished enough, be purified, and be allowed access to Heaven (the doctrine of Purgatory).

In short, I believe Inclusivism is the most compelling (for a variety of reasons, including biblical). Here is a good book on the issue: http://www.amazon.com/What-About-Those-Never-Heard/dp/0830816062/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1445907906&sr=8-2&keywords=fate+of+the+unevangelized

These are my thoughts! I hope you have fun reading!

David

Thursday, October 8, 2015

"Why doesn't the Spirit show up more in the Church?" A Conversation with a Friend

Hi David,

I really appreciate the time you took to answer my questions (and correcting me that it was Matthew not Mark that had the quote from Jesus about adultery in the heart) . I have so many questions it's ridiculous and have another one for you (just one for now ;) ). 

A funny side note - you were really fired up last week on the atheist and the ridiculous demands they place on the Bible and the whole morality podcast. Coincidentally, I was listening the WLC debate with Shelly Kagan (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SiJnCQuPiuo) so your diatribe was in context with other things in my week ;) I have more questions and comments about what Kagan said ...but that is for later.

So to my question... spurred on by Ravi Zacharias. He said the single apologetic that he wrestles with is that the seemingly lack of effect the Holy Spirit has on Christians. I'm not quoting him directly by my understanding of his point was that you would think the all powerful Holy Spirit would be more apparent in everyday Christian behavior. Or put another way, Christians are really bad at being Christians and I find that especially true in the US. Why do we get it so wrong so often? It definitely feeds the fire for non believers and nothing makes me shake my head more than when "evangelicals" warp scripture to something that doesn't look anything like something Jesus taught. I'm afraid I'll get to see this first hand later this month as I live just down the road from X Baptist Church; they are holding a presidential forum for all the candidates. I'm sure some strange things regarding the Bible will come out of their mouths. :(

Is it because we are inherently broken? Is our stubborn pride/free will denying the Spirit? Laziness in Christians to not learn their faith? Probably all of the above but what is your take?

Thanks, God Bless, keep podcasting! 

Cody


Hi Cody,

I’ve seen/heard that WLC and Kagan conversation a few times, too. WLC said at another place (perhaps one of his podcasts) that he was instructed NOT to make it a debate, but a simple conversation. Nevertheless, I kept being so frustrated that he was so…meh. He kept saying, “it just seems to me….” while Kagan kept sounding so much more compelling and right. I would have talked much more like a podcast I just recorded on morality. :)

That’s a great question concerning the effects of the Spirit. I had a similar conversation this last Sunday at a Bible study I lead. I’ve also struggled with that fact too. Of course, I’ve wondered about that fact often in my own life. I read of the amazing things done in the primitive Christian community, along with what is occurring in Christian communities around the globe, and I think, “Dern! I want that!”

I don’t have any profound reflections. Yet, I think a few things: (1) The Spirit acts in different ways in the NT, so I should expect that today. He might do something in me regarding teaching; He can move in someone else in healing. (2) The Spirit tends to do more “sensational” things among new believers/pagans, it seems to me. That also fits the NT, where it was to affirm the authority of the Church’s teaching.

Why don’t others (or myself) have more evidence of the Spirit? I think a few reasons: (1) I think a significant portion of people who think they’re Christian, are really not. I think that best explains why so many people seem to have little to no influence by the Spirit. I think this would also be exactly what Paul would say if asked. (2) I think our Christian communities are so secularized that the amount of Christian maturity and discipline that the earliest Christians possessed just rarely exists today. For centuries, Christians were abhorred by pagan behavior. How many churches today are FILLED with people having sex outside marriage? Addicted to everything and no one cares? Affairs? Gossips? Political agendas? Racism? Etc. And what kind of preaching is popular? “God wants to bless you. He loves you.” That preaching will never help the Bride of Christ. Moreover, churches beg for the Spirit now for a “breakthrough/blessing” not for guidance.

My point is, I think the American church is so overwhelmingly paganized that it affects the way the Spirit can/does move.

So, I do my best to get sin out of my life. I read my Bible, pray, and have moral accountability. I ask the Spirit to work/move/speak in and through me. And, if and when He wants to, I’m ready!

For the Kingdom,

David 

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